Happy Holidays from The Right Blue!

Christmas Tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) and Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
Christmas Tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) and Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), with polyps extended

by B. N. Sullivan

We chose this image for our holiday post because we thought it looked festive. We hope you agree.

The photo, taken during a night dive off  Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, shows a stand of Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) with its polyps extended for feeding.  Nestled cozily in the coral is a kind of Polychaete worm called the Christmas Tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus).  The worm burrows into coral and secretes a calcareous tube in which it lives.  Only its pair of feathery 'Christmas Tree' shaped crowns are visible outside its tube. The feathery tentacles on the crowns trap tiny tidbits of food, and also are used for respiration.

The Christmas Tree worm can retract its crowns into its tube for protection.  When the crowns retract, a structure called the operculum closes snugly over the tube like a lid or a little trap door.  Christmas Tree worms come in lots of colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, and white. We also have seen a version that is striped!

We hope all of our readers are enjoying the holiday season, and we wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

It's a Pipefish, but which Pipefish?

Pipefish, Bunaken Island Indonesia
Unidentified Pipefish, Fukui Point, Bunaken Island, Indonesia

by B. N. Sullivan

Nature photographers sometimes find it difficult to positively identify a creature they have photographed in the wild.  Certainly those of us who began taking pictures of critters in pre-Google days had (and still have) shelves full of reference books that we pored over, looking for photos or descriptions of animals we were trying to identify.  Nowadays, the task is made easier due to the wealth of online materials, searchable databases, and so on.  Still, many online photos are misidentified, so the trick is to find authoritative sources.

Generally, large animals and very common animals are easier to identify, while small, and/or less common creatures still can present a challenge.  Relying solely on an animal's coloration or markings to identify it does not always work.  For many species, the males and females look quite different.  As well, many creatures undergo drastic changes in appearance as they progress through their various developmental stages.  In some cases, similar species can be distinguished from one another only through laboratory examination of structures not visible externally.

But I digress...

This is a about a pipefish.  Recently, The Terramar Project published an article about a pipefish photo that prompted some marine scientists to think that it depicted a new species.  The article reminded me that I had a pipefish photo, taken many years ago, that I had never been able to identify with certainty.

That's my mystery pipefish at the top of the page.  To me, it resembles the so-called Network Pipefish (Coryichthys flavofasciatus), but may not be an exact match.  Now, perhaps the resolution of the photo is not as crisp as it could have been.  The markings thus may not be clearly represented.

But if anyone knows with a fair degree of certainty what Pipefish species is in my photo, please let us know.  Leave a comment or send us a tweet: @TheRightBlue

For the record, the fish was photographed (on film) at Fukui Point, Bunaken Island, in Indonesia's Bunaken National Marine Park -- in 1993!

Hold that pose, little crab!

Yellowline Arrow Crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis), Caribbean
Yellowline Arrow Crab, getting situated on a sponge

Yellowline Arrow Crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis), Caribbean
A Yellowline Arrow Crab strikes a pose
by B. N. Sullivan

This series of photos depicts a Yellowline Arrow Crab (Stenorhyncus seticornis), a common Caribbean species.  With its distinctive pointy-headed spidery shape, bulging eyes, yellow knees and tiny purple claws, it is an interesting photo subject.  As we approached this individual, it skittered onto a bright orange sponge -- also quite photogenic.

But crabs are not always the best photo models.

In this instance, the crab first struggled to get situated on the sponge, as if it wasn't quite sure how to arrange all of those gangly legs.  A few moments later it was settled in place, and I snapped its portrait.

I began to move around a bit, hoping to catch it from a slightly different angle, but my crabby friend would have none of it.  Without a by-your-leave, the crab simply left the scene.

It was time to look around for another subject.

Yellowline Arrow Crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis), Caribbean
"I'm outa here...!" - Yellowline Arrow Crab

I took these photos of the Yellowline Arrow Crab during a night dive at Little Cayman Island.

Bearded Scorpionfish: A Name That Suits

Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis, barbatus), Red Sea
Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis, barbatus), Red Sea
by B. N. Sullivan

Meet the Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis barbatus).  Both the common and scientific names of this fish refer to the frilly, fleshy flaps of skin protruding from its chin.  (The Latin name "barbatus" translates to "bearded.")

Like others in its family, Scorpaenidae, the Bearded Scorpionfish is an ambush predator.  Its strategy is to lie in wait for its prey to come swimming past at close range, and then to spring forth with its mouth wide open to engulf its meal in one big gulp.  In order to do this successfully, it helps to be as inconspicuous as possible.  It helps to be camouflaged.

The scorpionfish usually rests on algae-covered rocks, or among corals and marine plants.  The frills on this guy's chinny-chin-chin are a part of its disguise, helping it to blend in with its usual surroundings.

Despite its elaborate camouflage, the individual in these photos was easy to spot since it was out in the open, resting on a patch of sand.  Hoping I could get a close-up photo of its head, I lay down on the sand, too, and inched toward the fish.  To my delight, my subject did not flinch or flee after the first shot, so -- still on my belly --  I was able to move around carefully and face him to take a head-on shot of his impressive 'beard' at close range.

Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis, barbatus), Red Sea
Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis, barbatus), Red Sea